Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero

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The story of Mary Edwards Walker, the doctor and women's rights activist who served in the Civil War and receive the Medal of Honor.
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The story of Mary Edwards Walker, the doctor and women's rights activist who served in the Civil War and receive the Medal of Honor.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Pamela Paul
…a smart portrait of an unconventional woman…Molinari's old-timey ink-and-watercolor illustrations feel almost Hogarthian in places, but the sepia quality is well suited to this engrossing historical tale.
Publishers Weekly
Back when wearing pants was an act of defiance for women, Mary Walker sported them with poise. As a Civil War surgeon and activist, pants allowed her freedom of movement. Molinari shows a coiffed Walker striding confidently in a man’s tailored suit, as women glower in bonnets and floor-length dresses. In detailed prose, Harness describes Walker caring for the war wounded, being captured as a suspected spy (“It is likely that this was true”), and eventually receiving a Medal of Honor. Throughout, Harness underscores the greater implications of Walker’s attire: “There was more to Mary than her trousers. She lived as she believed, as an individual, fully equal and entitled to walk, breathe, and think freely, unbound by a corset or her society’s expectations.” An endnote further explores Walker’s life. Ages 6–9. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"This biography of Walker, a little-known women's rights advocate, presents a smart portrait of an unconventional woman." The New York Times, March 27, 2013

"Molinari's images are richly colored and drawn in an old-fashioned but very compatible style. . . .this is a welcome window into an important American life." Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2013

"The child-friendly text, peppered with colorful quotes and descriptions, works both as a read-aloud and a read alone to bring this little-known heroine to life." School Library Journal, April 1, 2013

Children's Literature - Enid J. Portnoy
Who wants to hear about a trailblazer who taught herself to be a doctor and chose to wear masculine clothes at a time when society dictated that women wear skirts and dresses? It was the Civil War era and Mary Edwards Walker was a public school teacher who dreamt of being a doctor. She paid for most of her medical school education in New York with her teacher's salary. Being a doctor was a very unusual job for a woman, and this woman did not dress as a woman of her period "should." It was a savvy selection; before and during the Civil War, the long pants she chose to wear made it easier for her to move around quickly and tend to her sick patients. Mary vigorously campaigned for women's rights as a public speaker based on her dangerous work during the battles of the Civil War. She hoped to be recognized for her work for soldiers on both sides, but was turned down for military promotions many times. Finally, she gained the title of Assistant to the Army Surgeon. Young readers will appreciate Molinari's finely-drawn illustrations of Mary during different stages of her life. Eventually, her service to the military and brave work during the Civil War made Mary a candidate for the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of this country's highest military awards. Her story is an example of how one person can change behavior and open opportunities for others. Her life offers a good model for young readers. Harness includes an excellent short summary of Mary Walker's many achievements at the back of this biography. Some years after her death, President Jimmy Carter officially recognized her outstanding contributions as a Medal of Honor winner. Cheryl Harness has written other books about outstanding American women and men. Molinari's colored illustrations will interest readers for the detailed portrayal of people's faces showing their displeasure and shock at having to deal with a woman who dressed in men's style clothing. Even being forced to spend time in jail never stopped Mary Walker from speaking on behalf of American women who hungered for respect and equal opportunities. The book is a fine addition to biographies about a strongly independent Americans who helped change the course of history. Reviewer: Enid J. Portnoy
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—'"Scandalous!' 'Positively sinful!' 'Outrageous!'" That is what people had to say about women's rights advocate, doctor, and abolitionist Mary Walker in the mid-19th century. Raised to be an independent thinker, she wore pants both literally and figuratively. Societal attitudes and expectations meant little to one of the first women doctors and the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor for her "services and sufferings" during wartime. Though she initially served as a volunteer for the Union Army during the Civil War, her hard work and determination finally led to her appointment as an assistant surgeon in 1863, the first woman doctor in the U.S. Army. The child-friendly text, peppered with colorful quotes and descriptions, works both as a read-aloud and a read alone to bring this little-known heroine to life. Molinari's realistic watercolor illustrations are full of period details. The scandalized town gossips appear rightfully judgmental and ridiculous. Iconic images of weary soldiers, hospital wards, the Union and Confederate flags, and Abraham Lincoln tipping his hat to some passersby all capture the era. Pair this with Shana Corey's You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! (Scholastic, 2000), about another suffragette. A solid addition for women's history or Civil War units.—Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools
Kirkus Reviews
Pants: Women were not supposed to wear them. Mary Walker not only got her medical degree in 1855, but found it much easier to do her work dressed smartly in men's trousers and tailored jacket. She was not accepted in the Union Army at first, but as an unpaid hospital volunteer, she tended the Civil War sick and wounded in Washington, D.C., and field hospitals. She was finally commissioned in late 1863, then captured and imprisoned by the Confederates. She was exchanged for a Confederate officer, and in 1866, she was given the Medal of Honor, the first and only woman to receive it. Harness tries valiantly to work this complicated story into one comprehensible for the early grades, but it makes for some difficult phrasing. Calling her, as some did, a "pesky camp follower" has very negative implications that adults, at least, will get. "Many Americans, especially in the South, firmly believed that enslaving people from Africa was a normal thing to do," is an awkward encapsulation of the reason for the Civil War. Molinari's images are richly colored and drawn in an old-fashioned but very compatible style and do a lot toward fleshing out the text. Despite awkwardness, this is a welcome window into an important American life. (Picture book/biography. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807549902
  • Publisher: Whitman, Albert & Company
  • Publication date: 3/1/2013
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 515,560
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: AD910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Cheryl Harness is the author of many books for young people, including Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women; Young Abe Lincoln; and M is for Mount Rushmore: A South Dakota Alphabet. She lives in Independence, Missouri.

Carlo Molinari is the illustrator of several books for children including a recent edition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. He lives in Italy.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer


    MARY WALKER WEARS THE PANTS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE DOCTOR,REFORMER,AND CIVIL WAR HERO by Cheryl Harness,illustrated by Carlo Molinari is a delightful Children's book,age range: 6-9 years. Mary Walker is the first and only female to win the Medal of Honor, one of the first female Doctors who served during the Civil War. A woman after my own heart. She worked,lived by her own rules not societies,she worn pants,yes Ladies, pants during the Civil War,she was outspoken,believed in Women's rights and was a Reformer of Women's Rights at a time when this was unheard of,during the turmoil of the Civil War. Thank goodness she was who she was or where would we be. Sure to enlighten any child on how far Women have come today. Educational,informative and a must read for not just young readers,but for all readers. I learned a tremendous amount of history and things I did not remember from school. Mary Walker, was also a prisoner of war. What a fascinating lady,Mary Walker was! This book has beautiful illustrations and packed full of history you will not go wrong with Mary Walker's story. A must read for educators,children, grandparents alike,and history bluffs. I would highly recommend this title!
    Received for an honest review from the publisher.
    RATING: 4.5
    REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction Reviews

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